Alaska loses 4 soldiers to suspected suicides in a 3-week span

In a three week span, from Oct. 10 to Nov. 1, four 11th Airborne Division soldiers died from suspected suicides.
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 7:43 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The long dark hours of the winter season are once again back in Alaska, creating a feeling of isolation for many — including the thousands of military personnel stationed here.

“They might find the lack of what they would consider social life or social activities is tough, and it increases those depressive symptoms,” MaryBeth Goodman, the Director at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic said.

In a three week span from Oct. 10 to Nov. 1, four members of the 11th Airborne Division died from suspected suicides. All four of these deaths are currently under investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Division. Three happened at Fort Wainwright outside of Fairbanks, and one occurred on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

In a letter given to families and soldiers of the 11th Airborne Division, leaders from the U.S. Army said, “The recent spike in deaths is obviously troubling, and all the suicide prevention measures announced in 2021 have been put into place and are ongoing.”

In 2021, Alaska lost 11 military members to suicide. Six more deaths are currently still under investigation as suspected suicides.

Ongoing initiatives from 2021 include the implementation of the Mission 100 campaign, which works to make sure that 100% of soldiers feel connected.

Being in contact with our soldiers, the Army says, is not the same as being connected with our soldiers.

“Connection creates the experience of a soldier feeling seen, heard and valued. Connection creates hope, and hope is our most lethal weapon to combat despair,” the U.S. Army said.

Mission 100 also dictates that all soldiers have access to wellness counseling from the military and family life counselors, available through the Army.

The 11th Airborne Division’s Commanding General also stated that, “We must remain resolute in our efforts to prevent the unnecessary loss of life. This remains my #1 priority.”

Officials at Fort Wainwright said they are working on improving the quality of life on their base. They are in the progress of supplying happy lights to military members, and adding new recreation options like aquatic and family centers on base.

“All of our new facilities that are in the works are going to have multiple meeting and gathering places, where people can come together outside of their rooms. ” Media Relations Specialist Eve Baker said. “That’s the big thing we are working on.”

The new installations are part of an attempt to get soldiers out of the barracks and outside, which would allow them to have places to connect with others. Getting outside and doing that, Goodman noted, is important — even if that means a soldier has to step out of their comfort zone.

“Think about it as a long term vacation. Get out there and try things you wouldn’t normally try,” Goodman said.

The overall message the military wants servicemembers to receive is not to be afraid to ask for help.

“Mental health care is health care. Period,” Goodman said.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic has facilities for in-person outpatient treatment at both their Fairbanks and Anchorage locations. They also provide tele-services remotely anywhere in the state. Anyone, they said, who wore the uniform even for a day, as well as their loved ones, have access to their services.

If you or someone you know is suicidal or thinking of self-harm, help is available by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255.